Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What's next for Posada?

This Yankees season has had a funny way about never letting the good times stick around for too long, so it makes sense that news of Jorge Posada's busted shoulder came to light prior to the team's fourth straight win yesterday against the Twins.

Posada hit the disabled list for the second time this season, and this time it may be for good. Doing some surfing around this morning, there seems to be universal agreement that the Yankees' lineup took another big hit with the news, though that theory may need closer inspection. Posada was never Posada at any point this season ... and it wasn't just defensively. The injury had sapped him of his power, making him a very pedestrian presence at the plate.

Posada hit just .248 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 33 games since returning from his April 28-June 3 DL stay. Defensively, Posada was a nightmare, throwing out only 3 of 37 attempted baserunners. Looking at the statistics, it's clear that Posada was hurting the team in his current carnation.

The injury sounds like a nasty one. The veteran has an appointment today for another MRI, and the fear is that there is now a rotator-cuff tear in addition to the previously diagnosed torn labrum. An operation would sideline him 4-6 months, and at 36 years old, lead to speculation whether he can be an effective big league catcher going forward.

There are questions that need to be answered here. First off, was Posada's shoulder structurally sound when he received his four-year, $52.4 million contract in the offseason? It seems hard to believe the shoulder would simply begin to implode in Spring Training, but then again we're talking about a catcher who had a ton of miles on the odometer heading into the season. Nearly every other team would've had an awkward situation on its hands if its aging catcher put up a career year in a contract season. Not the Yankees though, who just threw money at the situation and hoped problems wouldn't surface.

All of which brings the question of what will become of Posada going forward. The speculated plan at the time of the deal's announcement was that the club was hoping to get at least two years of catching from him before a segue into a designated hitter/first baseman role. That seems like wishful thinking this morning. The Yanks are loaded with 1B/DH types on their roster right now, but by 2009 it's very likely that Giambi, Betemit and Sexson will all be history.

Increased roster freedom for Joe Girardi will help deal with the Posada Conundrum. When the Yankees sign Mark Teixiera -- and yes, it is very likely the Yankees will sign the Braves' slugging switch-hitter -- Posada can back him at first, split DH duties with another beat-up vet in Matsui and hopefully work in a platoon catching role. I love what Molina brings to the team defensively, but the Yanks must go in a different direction if another catcher is to get 300-400 at-bats next season.

The farm system has little to offer in terms of catching prospects close to Major League ready, so GM Brian Cashman -- or whoever is in charge by this winter -- will look via trade or free agent pile to find Posada's partner in crime at the new Yankee Stadium.

Here's to hoping this isn't the beginning of a precipitous decline for Posada, who has been a great, great Yankee who deserves to have his number retired when his playing days are done. Strong play through the course of this contract likely would have punched him a Hall of Fame ticket, a prospect that doesn't look too bright these days. But Posada has a way of exceeding my expectations. Here's to hoping he can do it again.

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